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Goodbye, LeBron; Love, the Midwest

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 02, 2018

LeBron - Kid.jpg

I don’t live in Cleveland or Akron. I live, and grew up, just north of Detroit, in an inner-ring suburb known for Thai and Vietnamese restaurants and multiple expressways.

I didn’t live in the midwest for LeBron’s first run with the Cavs. I lived in Philadelphia, a city that was sports-crazy in its own aggro east-coast way, but didn’t live and die with its sports teams in the same all-enveloping way. Any city with an Ivy League campus has pockets of people who don’t notice sports at all.

When LeBron moved to Miami, I moved to New York. It made sense for both of us; a better job on a bigger stage, hopefully a better life. But soon enough, we were both headed back to the Midwest; we were both headed back home.

For a hot minute, I thought we were both headed to Philadelphia again. But some dreams are too good to be true.

The Midwest is sports-crazy; the midwest is sports-starved. Free agents don’t want to play here. Owners don’t want to spend money. Championships cluster on the coasts.

When teams like the Warriors win, it’s compounded good news for a team moving to take advantage of San Francisco’s riches. When the Cubs or Packers or Cavs win, we talk about century-long curses lifted, quaint tales of tiny markets that could, and the uplift of entire regions.

Of the twenty best basketball players who ever played, nine of them have played for the Los Angeles Lakers. (Yes, I’m counting Karl Malone.) Only two ever played for Cleveland. (One of them was washed-up Shaq.)

Three of the best five — LeBron, Jordan, and Kareem — played in the Midwest. Two of them left for LA.

It was special to have LeBron James in the Midwest. In the age of player empowerment he ushered in, to play for a man he hated, at a time when blue states have flipped to red, when billionaire oligarchs are buying up whole cities, and the national discourse tries to erase everything in the region but its white reactionaries, LeBron was the best of us. He stood up, somehow taller and more regal than the sea of tall, regal men, unafraid to tell the truth. Through Ferguson, through Tamir Rice, through Trump and Trumpism, he stood up and told the truth. I won’t forget it.

He also dragged four outmatched teams to four straight Finals through sheer talent, intelligence, and force of will. I won’t forget that either.

I’m not happy he’s going to the Lakers. (As a Pistons and Sixers fan, we have history. However, I am cool with him getting out of the Eastern Conference.) But I’m happy in the hope that he will get to be happy.

Update: Strongly recommend today’s The Lowe Post podcast with Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst, which digs into the tick-tock and the fallout of LeBron going to the Lakers, including some midwestern angst over what it means as a midwesterner to have so many of the good players bound to the coastal metropoles.